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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Zella May Gerber papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1943-1947
Creator: Gerber, Zella May (1904-1997)
Extent: 4.00 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0282
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: A secretary who worked in Alaska in 1943 and at the Oak Ridge Atomic Plant in Tennessee from 1944 to 1945.

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to The University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 416) were donated by Roger Albert in 1997 and 2004.

Preferred Citation: Zella May Gerber papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Zella May Farris was born on August 13, 1904 in Mt. Auburn, Iowa. Farris grew up with five sisters: Pearl, Hazel, Vera, Wilma and Grace. Her first husband was Carl Telander. Farris later married Robert Gerber. She had no children. Zella, who was known as Zev to friends and family, worked as a secretary on the Haines Military Cut-Off Road government project at the Chilkoot Barracks in Haines, Alaska in 1943. From 1944-1945 she worked as a secretary to the resident engineer for the Kellex Corporation at the Oak Ridge Atomic Plant in Tennessee.

Zella and her husband Robert Gerber also served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Osmara, Ethiopia. Robert Gerber was a Civil Engineer and Zella served as secretary for Bob Bosshard. While in Ethiopia, Robert Gerber fell asleep in bed while smoking, badly burning his left arm. He had to be shipped to a hospital in Germany where they amputated his arm, and then to Great Lakes Naval Station in the U.S. to recover. Zella was required to stay in Osmara for several months and finish their tour of duty before she could join him.

Zella May Gerber died July 5, 1997.

The Zella May Gerber papers date from 1943 to 1947 and measure 4 linear inches. The papers are arranged in four series: Biography, Alaska, Ethiopia, and Tennessee.
The Biography series contains the prayer card from Gerber's funeral and two poems written by Gerber, one for her father on his 84th birthday.
The Alaska series contains materials from Gerber's 1943 tour-of-duty as a secretary on the Haines Military Cut-Off Road project. The series consists of a humorous cartoon apparently drawn by a colleague, autographs and comments from Gerber's co-workers, a map of the Canadian Railway system and Gerber's ticket-stub, humorous correspondence including a handmade birthday card Gerber received, invitations to numerous parties held on the base, and several typed poems that may be original work written by Gerber and/or her co-workers. The Alaska series also contains a map of the Haines Cut-Off Road project and a certificate acknowledging Gerber's participation in the project. The handwritten "My Alaskan trip" is a description of Gerber's sojourn from St. Paul, Minnesota to Alaska. The description also covers Gerber's climb up Mt. Rapinski three months after her arrival in Alaska. Two folders of photographs of  personnel and scenery complete the series. Many of the photographs have identifying descriptions written on the back.
The Ethiopia series consists entirely of photographs.
The Tennessee series includes materials on the Oak Ridge atomic bomb project. Materials include a personnel chart, an autographed map, and a certificate acknowledging Gerber's participation in the building of the atomic bomb. The Tennessee series also contains a brochure with photographs and descriptions of Oak Ridge City and a manual for residents of the city describing the rules and regulations for living on a restricted military base. Two photocopied photographs include Gerber's identifications of various buildings. The series contains several newspaper articles regarding the Oak Ridge military installation and concerns about sabotage. Loose photographs are undated. A few of them are identified. The scrapbook contains photographs and postcards that Gerber collected on some of the outings she and her co-workers took to nearby state parks.

Browse by Series:
Series 2: ALASKA
Series 3: ETHIOPIA

  • Series 1: BIOGRAPHY
  • Box 1:
  • General
  • Minnesota identification card, undated
  • Poems, undated
  • Prayer card - 1997
  • Series 2: ALASKA
  • 1 :
  • Amusements - 1943
  • Autographs - 1943
  • Canadian Pacific Railway, undated
  • Correspondence - 1943
  • Haines Cut-Off Road - 1943
  • Invitations - 1943
  • My Alaskan trip, - 1943
  • Newspaper clipping - 1944
  • Poetry, undated
  • Photographs, undated (folder 1)
  • Photographs, undated (folder 2)
  • Series 3: ETHIOPIA
  • 1 :
  • Photographs, undated
  • Series 4: TENNESSEE
  • 1 :
  • Article - 1947
  • Atomic bomb project - 1945
  • Correspondence - 1946
  • Newspaper clippings, undated
  • Oak Ridge the Atomic City - 1944
  • Photographs, undated
  • Box 2:
  • Scrapbook, undated